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10 Practical Steps to Managing Midlife Stress

Midlife stress comes with its own unique problems that can range from caring for aging parents to supporting adult children, and maintaining a career. And nothing can contribute to mid-life malaise more quickly than prolonged exposure to excessive stress. Stress can wear down the immune system, evoke insomnia, wear on the spirit, and even manifest physical disease. In fact, the World Health Organization calls stress "the health epidemic of the 21st century."

Stress has been noted as the causative factor underlying more than 70% of all visits to the family doctor. But what is stress exactly? The term was first coined by Dr. Hans Selye, who described the concept of stress as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it."

This means that the effects of stress cannot be determined by the type of stressor encountered, but rather by how we react to the stressor itself.

When people believe they are in physical or mortal danger, stress activates the emergency response mechanism resulting in dilated pupils dilate, increased blood pressure, and the production of stress hormones like adrenaline. This phenomenon is best known as the 'fight or flight' syndrome. The adrenal glands pound out adrenaline in quick response to the pituitary-adrenal-cortical system of the brain.

Historically, this stress response may have helped us survive wild animal attacks during more primitive times in which we either fought for our lives or ran for it. Hence, fight or flight… Either way, the flood of hormonal changes would be burned up by either activity.

In today’s modern world we don’t generally get attacked by wild animals. Instead, the threat comes from the fear of failure or loss like the loss of a job or loved one, not closing the big sale, or the fear of not having enough for retirement. While these stressors are not immediately life threatening, the body cannot distinguish between the life threatening fear of an animal attack and the life threatening fear of loss.

In modern life we generally can’t “run away” from these stressors. They are ever present in our lives and our bodies have struggled to adapt. Given no outlet for relief, the body continues to increase its supply of adrenal and responsive hormones indefinitely thereby causing a constantly higher-than-normal level of hormone production that can eventually cause physical breakdown of the body. Health problems related to this constant high level of response include hypertension, headaches, heart disease, depression, and increased vulnerability to diabetes and colitis.

So how do we fight stress?

In mastering stress, you have to figure out what you may be doing that contributes to your problem/challenge and change it. To help you, I’ve outlined 10 practical steps to managing the effects of stress and creating balance in your life.

Stress Management Tip #1 Make your life as regular as 'clock work.' No, you can’t account for every surprise assignment or traffic jam but you can at least strive for getting to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

Stress Management Tip #2 Give yourself a break. You are entitled to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Instead, take inventory, learn from it, and press onward.

Stress Management Tip #3 Learn to say 'No' more often when other people want your time. This includes social engagements, the family dinner on Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.

Stress Management Tip #4 Postpone making any dramatic changes in your living environment if you have been coping with undue stress. Save the big changes until later when you are better able to cope.

Stress Management Tip #5 If you can, reduce the number of hours you spend at work or school. If you are a work-a-holic or school-a-holic you need to reduce the energy drain on your body. TAKE SOME TIME OFF. You will return recharged and more productive if you do.

Stress Management Tip #6 Feed yourself well. Good nutritional eating habits and eating small meals helps to keep your blood sugar stable. Many people reach for something high in sugar content when feeling stressed which compounds the problem. Instead - eat more vegetables.

Stress Management Tip #7 Rest your mind, as mind activities alleviate stress. These mind activities include reading, working on a craft, listening to music, playing a musical instrument, meditation, self-relaxation, dancing, and biofeedback.

Stress Management Tip #8 Have a worry time if you must worry. When you find yourself worrying over a problem, set aside a time (like 7:30pm on Tuesday night) and then put off worrying until that time. Chances are good that by the time your preset appointment rolls around, you won’t even remember what was stressing you out in the first place.

Stress Management Tip #9 Book some down-time for yourself. In your daily or weekly schedule be sure to book time first for yourself and then fit the other activities you are involved in around those periods. Don't let anything, except an actual emergency, usurp your commitment to yourself.

Stress Management Tip #10 This is one I can definitely help you with - Book a massage or try another form of self-care activity like exercise, a brisk walk, or stretching session.

Keep moving toward a better you!

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